They’ve brought in the big guns.
Preparing to have its case heard before the Court of Appeals, the Edgemont Incorporation Committee has added former New York Court of Appeals Chief Justice Jonathan Lippmann to its legal team.
Lippmann, now at Manhattan-based Latham & Watkins, served as chief justice from February 2009 to December 2015. Previously, he was the presiding justice of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, First Department from May 2007 to 2009 and had served as the longest tenured chief administrative judge in state history from January 1996 to May 2007.
Lippman’s connection to the incorporation debate predates his time at the Court of Appeals — he was a part of the Rye Brook incorporation movement in the 1980s, the last successful incorporation effort in Westchester.
“I felt it was an important principle … that the local community is able to incorporate and to have self-determination,” Lippman told The Inquirer. He said he values the democratic principles such that “people should be able to determine how they are going to be governed.”
He said his involvement in the creation of the village of Rye Brook helped spark his interest into the EIC’s efforts. Lippmann and Edgemont resident Blair Connelly, also an attorney at Latham & Watkins, would often talk about how the push for a village of Edgemont was progressing. Those conversations eventually led Lippmann to join the EIC legal team.
“Obviously on an issue of such importance to have someone of Judge Lippman’s stature on our side … is wonderful,” said Connelly. “And to have him on our team for something that is of such importance to those of us who live [in Edgemont] and believe in this cause is even more so.”
The weight of the Edgemont incorporation case helped attract Lippman to the EIC’s legal team.
“The case could very well clarify, under the Village Law, how you incorporate, what the standards are, and what the criteria are,” said Lippmann, adding there are both “micro issues and macro issues here.”
“On the whole it’s how a community exercises its democratic prerogative in getting a vote on an issue like this,” Lippman continued. “On a micro level there are particular issues such as how you describe a district, the geographic area, the voters, etc.”
This is a very important area of the law that “affects people in their backyards,” he said, adding it would be a real service to New York citizens if the case could produce a “real sharpening” of the law to guide future incorporation efforts.
After the appellate division ruled in favor of Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner — stating the EIC made two mistakes on its incorporation petition — the EIC felt the appellate court’s two-page decision did not provide sufficient guidance on how to properly develop a petition for incorporation.
According to the appellate division, the EIC did not include a sufficient list of names of people who would live in the prospective village and did not clearly outline the boundaries of the prospective village.
Although the decision cited case law as part of the ruling, the EIC felt the court could have written a far more thorough decision, giving the EIC a roadmap to correct its perceived mistakes in the future.
Lippmann told The Inquirer he did not object to the length of the appellate division’s decision; some decisions are tens of pages and others are much shorter.
However, Lippmann said, “Our position is that we’d like to see more guidance on the law in this area.”
Despite his experience as chief justice for the Court of Appeals, Lippmann cautions expectations that the EIC would have a tangible edge should its case come before the court with his help.
“It is not unusual for former judges of the court to appear in cases and to submit legal briefs to the court,” the judge said. “It’s a common occurrence.”
He added that if you’re practicing law it is a “privilege” to appear before the high court, whether or not you’ve previously served on the court.
“We relish the opportunity as any good lawyer would,” Lippman said. “I have absolute confidence in the high court that the case will be decided on the merits, as it should be.”